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Utah Royals FC sign 'one of the best players in the NWSL' in Becky Sauerbrunn

United States defender Becky Sauerbrunn (4) plays against New Zealand during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Commerce City, Colo., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (
United States defender Becky Sauerbrunn (4) plays against New Zealand during the first half of an international friendly soccer match in Commerce City, Colo., Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. (
Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

SANDY — With their first official signing, the Utah Royals FC set the bar just about as high as it can get.

The team announced that the U.S. Women’s National team co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn agreed to join the first-year team, creating high hopes for this inaugural season.

“Becky is one of the best players the NWSL has seen over its five-year existence,” Royals FC head cdoach Laura Harvey said. “To have her join us in Utah is really exciting, and to be able to build our Club around a player like Becky is a huge development for this team. I’m really looking forward to working with her.”

Sauerbrunn said she’s played in Utah with the U.S. Women’s National Team, but it was the visit she took a few weeks ago that convinced her Utah would be a great place to play. She took a tour of Rio Tinto, saw plans for the women’s locker room, saw the training facilities, and met the support staff.

“It was all amazing,” said, a 5-foot-7 defender who is an original member of the National Women’s Soccer League, a two-time league champion and a three-time NWSL Defender of the Year. “I’m excited to play in Salt Lake City. I understand they really support the teams there, and I’ve already gotten a few ‘Welcome to Salt Lake’ messages.”

The 32-year-old has represented the U.S. on the World Cup stage 135 times. She was key in the USWNT’s victory over Canada in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the third of its kind for the U.S.

It’s not a complete surprise that Sauerbrunn agreed to sign with the Royals FC, as Utah acquired the rights to the roster of FC Kansas City when the team ceased operation in November. The team, with Sauerbrunn’s help, won two NWSL titles — 2014 and 2015.

The league manages the contracts of the players, and any of the FCKC Blues players with contracts were assigned to the Royals. In addition to Sauerbrunn, the roster includes national team members Sydney Leroux Dwyer, and Amy Rodriguez.

Sauerbrunn is already familiar with the Royals' new head coach, former Seattle Reign coach Laura Harvey.

“I know here because I played against her for five years,” Sauerbrunn said. “I’m really excited. …Everyone I talked to only had glowing reviews. …I think we’ll have a strong team.”

Sauerbrunn said she believes the NWSL, which has struggled to find financial stability, needs a combination of committed ownership and supportive communities to thrive. She believes the Utah Royals have that, pointing to the fact that the team has sold nearly 2,000 season tickets in two weeks with no roster.

“I think teams have you have to affiliate yourself with cities that will support a team,” she said. “And teams that have an MLS connection, because there is a built-in front office and fan base, and I think it’s finding strong sponsorship. And you need owners who are very willing to invest in the team and try and make this league into something great.”

Harvey is known for luring top-notch foreign talent to the U.S. league, and Sauerbrunn said she believes they will be a contender in their first year. But it’s every aspect of the organization that convinced the veteran player that a women’s soccer team might thrive in Utah.

“So much of (what I saw in Utah) was world class,” she said, rattling off the amenities that allow an athlete to excel.

She looks forward to meeting the Utah fans, especially the young women who see her and her teammates as role models.

“That’s one of the best parts of my job,” she said. “I love interacting with the community, getting out there and getting to know people and making bonds with the community. A lot of young women play soccer, and it’s wonderful to give them something to aspire to.”